EAGLE, Colo. – With the parents of the alleged victim in the courtroom, the judge in the Kobe Bryant (search) sexual assault case apologized Friday for court mistakes that led to the release of sealed information.
During the brief public hearing, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle (search) told the parents he would treat the mistakes as a learning experience.
"For all of those who come through these doors, victims and defendants alike, whose names are never known and never sought, I can only assure you I have learned lessons from these mistakes, and that we will give our best human effort not to let it happen again," he said.
Then he looked directly at the parents of the 20-year-old accuser and said, "Again, I apologize." They nodded in response.
The hearing, one of two scheduled before the trial begins Aug. 27, came one day after Ruckriegle released an edited transcript from a closed-door hearing in June in which defense attorneys claimed the woman was pursuing the case in part because she has received nearly $20,000 from a state victims' compensation fund (search).
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to a felony sexual assault charge, saying he had consensual sex with a 19-year-old employee of the Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers (search) star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
Scheduled for discussion behind closed doors later Friday were requests by Bryant's attorneys to keep his tape-recorded statements to investigators under seal until trial and to limit the prosecution's use of those statements.
Legal experts have speculated the defense might want to keep embarrassing, but not necessarily incriminating, statements out of the trial.
During the public portion of the hearing, the prosecution and defense said they had agreed on how to use DNA evidence obtained from Bryant during a hospital exam after the alleged attack last summer.
Ruckriegle said the agreement generally means either side could introduce the evidence at any point. Prosecutor Ingrid Bakke later said the only DNA evidence she plans to use was from the alleged victim's blood found on Bryant's T-shirt.
The DNA evidence collected from Bryant was thrown out this month as part of a larger defense request, but the defense now wants the exam results admitted because they presumably bolster their contention the accuser had sex with someone after Bryant and before she went to the hospital. Her attorney has denied that claim.
The hospital exam evidence was outlined in a sealed court order accidentally posted on a state court Web site earlier this week.
In the edited transcript released Thursday, defense attorney Pamela Mackey said that the woman received more than $17,000 in compensation for mental health care, far above the state cap of $1,125 for such treatment. She also said the woman received $2,300 in lost wages, and suggested the money was provided as an incentive to continue participation in the case.
Mackey also said the woman would have to reimburse the fund if she was found to have lied -- even more reason to press forward with the case.
"Miss (redacted) has profited to an enormous amount, $20,000, I would suspect to most people in this county is a lot of money, most of our jurors, and she has done that on the basis of a false allegation and has persisted in that false allegation," she said.
An attorney for the woman, John Clune, called Mackey's arguments "nothing more than tabloid accusations, which are filled with inaccurate information." He declined to elaborate.
"Although the family greatly appreciates the availability of something like the crime victim compensation fund, the amounts that have been paid out are a small fraction of the financial strain that this case has placed upon both the victim and her parents," Clune said. "Ms. Mackey's suggestion that this girl or her family has profited from this case is obscene."
It was unclear whether the information would be admitted as evidence. Ruckriegle's order on use of the information was sealed.
Attorney Larry Pozner, a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he had never seen compensation amounts so high.
"In an ordinary case this would be a bombshell," he said. "In this case so many bombshells have already hit this is only a grenade. But it's a pattern and the pattern is this woman has been given special treatment and nobody on the government side wants to talk about it."
The judge has ruled that the woman's sex life over the three days before her July 1, 2003, hospital exam can be used as evidence. In his mistakenly released order, he said swabs taken from Bryant's body contained DNA from him and the woman, but not from an unidentified third person whose genetic material was found on other pieces of evidence in the case.